By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – Two children in Syria, a boy of five-years-old and a girl of three, became engaged last week after being forced into the relationship through an arranged marriage. The children’s parents contend that both children consented to the engagement and that they love each other. Although the parents of the children say that there will be no formalization of the marriage for at least a decade, the issue of arranged marriages has again received international attention.
The boy’s father reported that he vowed to have his son, Khalid, engaged by the age of five and claims that his son fell in love with the girl, Hala, on a family trip. He explained that after their encounter, both children suffered from “loneliness” when they were apart. After returning home, Khalid refused to return to his day care center unless Hala attended with him reported the boy’s father. Khalid’s parents note that their son’s new fiancé felt similar symptoms and that upon discussing the matter with Hala’s parents, agreed that the children should be engaged.
Arranged marriages are common in the region and often involve negotiations for the exchanged of goods or favors for a promise to marry. Khalid’s father told Gulf News that he will “bear the education expenses of both the children till they graduate.”
Both families are facing growing criticism from within and outside of the country. Articles in numerous Syrian newspapers and online discussion forums expressed their disapproval of the engagement. “How can these idiotic and clearly blind parents not see that they are merely encouraging the destruction of their children’s childhoods?” comments one woman on an online forum. But Forward Magazine, a Syrian magazine written in English, notes that Syrian marriages are traditionally arranged at an early age. Typically, when a boy reaches puberty, his mother will search for a suitable female, usually younger than their son, to be his wife explains the magazine. Despite the prevalence and custom of arranged marriages in Syria however, the ages of Khalid and Hala makes this case very unique.
The United Nations has recommended that nations set a minimum age for marriage at 18 for both men and women, warning that child marriages often reinforce poverty and low education. A number of international human rights agreements protect children from underage marriages however, enforcement of these agreements is often lax especially when a society’s customs and beliefs are implicated.
Khalid’s father notes that it is possible that the children may change their minds when they are older but failed to comment on whether the engagement could be broken off. “We know that Khalid or Hala might change their mind in the future” states Khalid’s father “but what we do know at this stage is that they are very happy and talk to each other everyday.” Khalid is waiting until he is 15 to marry Hala.
For more information, please see:
CBS News – Syrian Boy, 5, Engaged to Girlfriend, 3 – 25 Oct. 2010
Huffington Post – Syrian Boy, 5, Proposes to 3-Year-Old Girlfriend – 25 Oct. 2010
New York Daily News – Boy, 5, Engaged to Girl, 3, in Arranged Marriage in Syria – 25 Oct. 2010
Gulf News – Five-Year-Old Khalid Pops the Question to Hala, Three – 21 Oct. 2010